Mental Floss, a magazine that also sells products, expands

February 5, 2013

One of the hottest T-shirt designers on the market is a magazine.

Mental Floss, the 160,000 circulation magazine owned by publishing magnet Felix Dennis, derives one-third of its revenue from e-commerce, one-third from subscriptions and newsstand sales, and one-third from advertising.

Its T-shirt business represents about 40 percent of its e-commerce revenue.
On Tuesday, it unveiled its latest effort, T-shirt Tuesdays, where every week Mental Floss will reveal a new design to capitalize on one of its best selling products. Last year, Mental Floss sold about 40,000 T-shirts for $24.99 a pop.

Indeed, as the media industry struggles with a severe decline in advertising publications like Conde Nast’s Lucky and Gawker are delving further into the business of e-commerce. The idea is to tap into loyal audiences and subscribers and turn them into a ready-made market.

Mental Floss, a quirky publication covers such diverse subjects as sunken treasures to paper back books to operas based on Richard Nixon, is considered a pioneer of editorial merchandising, selling its readers products for the past decade.

Mental Floss founders Will Pearson and Mangesh Hattikudur Said in an interview with Reuters that the magazine’s T-shirt business already generates seven figures in revenue, but declined to be more specific. Some top selling T-shirts include “I’m no Rocket Surgeon” and “I’m an English Major, You Do the Math.”

Mental Floss also sells books, games, toys and other merchandise as part of its e-commerce efforts. It partnered with HarperCollins to publish books and it also produces board games including a project with educational toy maker Melissa and Doug.

Mental Floss was founded in 2001 by Pearson and Hattikudur while they were students at Duke University.

Two years ago they sold the magazine to Dennis, who also owns The Week.

“We saw this perfectly realized brand and an opportunity to invest and grow,” said Steven Kotok the chief executive of The Week and Mental Floss.

Before Dennis came knocking, Mental Floss only had the capacity to try out one project to carefully preserve resources.
“I knew selling would allows us to do a lot,” said Hattikudur. “We could only place one bet at a time and it had to be profitable.”

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